12 of the best books about living well and being a good human

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Sculpture of an insect on the Brienz woodcarving trail in the woods
Pondering life on a hiking trail above Brienz in the Swiss Alps

What does it mean to be a good human? And how can we live a good life?

There are several places we can find answers, including our communities, the natural world, our lived experiences, and spirituality.

Books also offer one of the best sources of answers. They compile lifetimes of experiences and wisdom in their pages, ready for us to access and learn from at any time and place we choose.

The books in this collection are some of the best books about the meaning of life and living well that I’ve come across so far.

Some of these books are favorite memoirs, others are philosophical guides and self-help books. All of them share themes of wisdom, self-discovery, and our connection with other humans and good creatures.

Soak in their wisdom and turn the last page as a subtly different person than you were before. Enjoy.

The best books about living a good life

On Living by Kerry Egan

Read On Living for… a beautifully written meditation on the philosophy of living well by coming to terms with the “spiritual work of dying.”

Described by Elizabeth Gilbert as a brave meditation on the importance of making “peace and meaning of our lives while we still have them,” hospice chaplain Kerry Egan shares what she’s learned about living well in this beautiful memoir.

As we read On Living, we witness how each of Kerry’s patients taught her something about what matters in the end, whether it’s how to find courage in the face of fear, the strength to make amends, or the compassion to live with openhearted kindness.

Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most by Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

Read Life Worth Living for… a guide to what matters most in life, inspired by its authors’ sought-after undergraduate course at Yale.

What does it mean to live a good life? In this new collection of wisdom for 2023, Yale faculty Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz answer one of life’s most pressing questions: how are we to live?

This inspiring book offers jumping-off points, road maps, and habits of reflection for figuring out where your life holds meaning and what to adjust. This is one of the best new books to inspire big changes in your life.

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Bramer

Read The Collected Regrets of Clover for… a heartwarming and life-affirming debut for readers of The Midnight Library, about a death doula who, in caring for others at the end of their life, has forgotten how to celebrate her own.

What if death can be a reason to celebrate life? This ultimately hopeful book turns the normally taboo subject of death into a reason to celebrate life.

After her beloved grandfather dies alone while she is traveling, Clover Brooks becomes a death doula in New York City, dedicating her life to guiding people through their end-of-life journey with peace and dignity.

However, while spending so much time with the dying, Clover realises that she has ignored her own life. That is, until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send her on a trip across the country to uncover a forgotten love story – and perhaps, her own happy ending.

A Calendar of Wisdom by Leo Tolstoy

A Calendar of Wisdom cover

Read A Calendar of Wisdom for… what Leo Tolstoy thought of as his most important contribution to humanity, consisting of daily snippets of wisdom from the world’s sacred texts and his favourite thinkers.

A self-help book by Tolstoy? Yep. A Calendar of Wisdom is an accessible collection of daily thoughts to nourish the soul, hand-picked by Tolstoy from the texts, religions, and people that inspired him.

Read more: A Calendar of Wisdom: Tolstoy’s self-help guide for “inner force, calmness, and happiness”

What Looks Like Bravery by Laurel Braitman

Read What Looks Like Bravery for… a gorgeous memoir about the ways loss can transform us into the people we want to become and guide us back to the love that will set us free.

In my April book of the month, Laurel Braitman shares an incredibly wise story of love, loss, and healing after the death of her dad, the man who taught her how to keep bees, outfish grown men, and fix carburetors.

Read it for one woman’s healing journey through multiple wildernesses, each forcing her to find bravery she wasn’t sure she had. As Laurel navigates northern New Mexico, western Alaska, and her own Tinder app, she teaches us that hope is not only a form of courage, but also a key to the locked doors of our dreams.

The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully by Morrie Schwartz

Read The Wisdom of Morrie for… a new book for 2023 from the eponymous subject of Tuesdays with Morrie, offering a guide to making later life some of your most beautiful and rewarding years.

Have you read and loved the multimillion-copy bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie? If so, you should absolutely read this. (Although, if you’re new to Morrie’s insights, The Wisdom of Morrie is also a fantastic introduction.)

Read it to ask: who am I really? What is important and meaningful to me? What difference does it make that I have lived? The Wisdom of Morrie is packed with insightful and poignant wisdom to help you answer these questions and stay vibrant and creative with age.

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

Read The Good Life for… evidence-backed lessons in living a fulfilled and meaningful life from the world’s longest study on happiness.

We all have our own opinions about what it means to live a good life. But what does the research actually say?

Based on findings from the 80-year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development, this captivating science-packed book reveals the simple truth: the stronger our relationships, the more likely we are to live happy, satisfying, and healthy lives.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

How to be a Good Creature

Read How to Be a Good Creature for… Sy Montgomery’s wholesome memoir of her life with animals, complete with stunning illustrations by Rebecca Green and timeless lessons about what it means to live a good life.

In this gorgeous reminder of the beauty of life, Sy Montgomery elegantly shares the bonds she has developed with pigs, dogs, and even an octopus during her life so far. It’s a memoir about the plethora of ways in which her animal friends have helped her to be a good creature, too.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

Read When Breath Becomes Air for… one of the most moving memoirs about the beauty and fragility of life by Paul Kalanithi.

On the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient coming to terms with the little time he had left.

In a Reddit thread about the books everyone should read in their 20s, one reader shared, “I just received it and almost read the full thing in one sitting. The way he writes is incredible.”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks

Read Four Thousand Weeks for… a non-fiction must-read that will make you rethink what is productive, what’s meaningful, and what life is ultimately for.

What matters most to you? What’s more, how can you make time for that? Four Thousand Weeks is one of my favourite self-improvement books of the last few years, offering a well-deserved criticism of our modern definition of time management.

As Oliver Burkeman shares, our idea of time management is wrapped in productivity, achievement, and progress. However, this book offers a wise reminder of the often-ignored alternative: that the best use of our time is based on our mortality and what matters most to us.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius


Read Meditations for… what’s thought to be the first self-help book ever, written as private journal entries 2000 years ago. It’s just as wise and timeless today.

How can we find the motivation to get up every morning? Meditations is one of the best books to answer this question.

Get your own copy of this bible of Stoic wisdom and turn to it when you’re feeling lethargic, lost and directionless, or lacking motivation. It also helped me through one of the most anxious periods of my life.

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett

Read Becoming Wise for… the same wise and elegant intelligence about what makes us human as Krista Tippett’s award-winning radio show and podcast, On Being.

On Being is one of my favourite podcasts – it’s full to the brim with wisdom, eloquence, and beautiful insights into the art and spirituality of living.

Similarly, Krista Tippett’s wonderfully hopeful and life-affirming book will remind you of the beauty of life, the kindness of humans, and how our wounds actually bring us meaning, beauty, and wisdom.

For more books about living well, complement these with the most soothing books to remind you of the beauty of life, the most hopeful books, and the most inspiring books to change your life. How will your life be different this time next year?

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